I've run the the Brazen Rocky Ridge Half Marathon three times. Twice it has taken me longer than five hours to finish - my speedy year (2011) I finished in a blazing four and a half hours. This course and its barely under 4000 feet of elevation has my number - every year after I finished, I promised myself that I did not need to do it again.
But I keep coming back.
This course has some great trails and amazing views. But it also has some of the nastiest climbs around.
A week before Rocky Ridge, I struggled more than a bit to get through the Quicksilver Half Marathon, which is also a tough Half, but not to the level of Rocky Ridge. I knew that finishing Rocky Ridge was going to be a challenge, and in fact had decided to drop to the 10K.
But as Rocky Ridge Race Day approached I started getting confident again, so I stuck with the Half, but took advantage of the early start.
|It was pretty dark right up to the moment the early start took off.|
Cows were a persistent theme during this race, and they seemed a bit spunkier than normal.
|Amazing photo by Brazen volunteer Asset (not her real name, but wouldn't that be great!).|
For me, the first climb of the race went great and I was feeling pretty spunky myself. It was cool and calm as we watched the sun rise above the hills.
|Passing Coach Laup and his running buddies Annahs and Eiram (none of their real names) at about mile 2.5.|
At the first aid station, mile 3.25, I caught up to Eibbed and Ainigriv (not their real names). By this time we were well on our way back down from the first big hill climb.
This is a great part of the race on nicely shaded trails. It's easy to forget that you've got some serious climbs coming up soon and to go too fast during this stretch.
Somewhere around mile 4.5 I came across Etep (not his real name) taking pictures of us.
|Picture by pete beck photography. Horrific running form by me.|
|Picture by pete beck photography. Adorable running form by Mrs Notthat.|
|It was around mile 5.5 or so that the faster runners from the normal start began passing me.|
Eventually the downhill ends and it's time to pay the price as you start up the second big hill. About a quarter of the way up you come to the second aid station, mile 6.5. And about a half mile from there you hit a very steep climb.
The one good thing about that climb is that you get some great views. I was stopping often to enjoy the views. By this point all my spunk was gone and I was not doing well. But hey! The views!
Then you reach the Cruel Tease. You've struggled and made it to the top of that second hill, or so it seems. In reality, you've made it about two-thirds the way up, and to teach you a lesson, you end up going back down a bit before you resume your climb. It's a nice respite, but I heard a number of runners talking about how happy they were to be done climbing that second hill and had no idea what was about to hit them.
|Aluap (not her real name) catching up to me as I struggle up the last bits of that second big hill.|
|Photo by Nivla (not his real name) as he passed me.|
The one minor blessing is that, for the most part, the fierceness of this last climb up to the top of the second hill is hidden from you since you are mostly in the trees. But then there are places like this where you look up and get a shot of the truth about what is ahead of you.
But, eventually, you really do make it to the top! Here Niwhsa (not her real name) shows her joy at having made it.
I was thrilled to have made it too, but was in pretty bad shape. And to make it worse, it was really starting to warm up.
There is nearly a mile of smooth downhill at this point, and it should be a thrilling mad dash down it (Htenaj, not her real name, is showing proper form here). But not for me - I was in a zombie shuffle going down this thing.
At the bottom of that hill, and just before the biggest climb of the whole race (mile 9.36) there is the third aid station. This was a busy aid station since it served runners for all three distances, although by this time, there were mostly only Half runners still out wandering around.
A good/bad thing about this aid station is that it is a perfect place to drop if you need to, since there is a shortcut from here back to the finish line. As I shuffled down that hill to get here, I told myself that I would stop and sit for twenty minutes and see if I could recover.
While sitting there, I got to see a number of real runners go past me as they bravely took on that last big hill. Ettedanreb (not her real name) hydrated, then took this picture of me sitting in my chair.
|"Beware the chair" indeed. Photo by Ettedanreb.|
Mrs Notthat came by while I was sitting there. She loves the sunshine and was thrilled to be soaking it up. Then she turned around and started heading up that hill.
|Photo by Brazen volunteer.|
I'm not sure where on the course this picture was taken, but I love that Mrs Notthat is actually running up this hill. She is amazingly tough and impressive. I am not worthy.
|A WAY too perky Nivla (who took that picture of me on the trail earlier) coming in to his finish.|
After I sat for 20 minutes, I filled up my water bottles and started up the hill. But after about 100 yards I realized it wasn't going to happen - I had nothing left and needed to drop.
The one advantage of dropping at that point was that I got to be at the finish much earlier than normal, and was able to see a number of runners finish and watch the presentation of the big checks.
|Photo by Brazen volunteer.|
This is one of the few trail Half Marathons that has cash prizes, which naturally attracts a number of fast runners. (There are cash prizes for just this race and for the Brazen Ultra Half Series. Needless to say, I don't think I will ever have to worry about whether one of these checks will fit in my car or how goofy I would look walking into my bank with one.)
|Divad (not his real name) charging down to the finish past some cows.|
After I rested for a bit, I headed back up the hill a tiny bit to try to get a shot of Mrs Notthat coming in to the finish.
I couldn't believe how strong she still looked - she ended up with a sub-four hour finish, which is easily her PR on this course and a great time that I can only dream of.
|Mrs Notthat showing off her coaster (for finishing the Ultra Half Series).|
|The amazing Ecinreb flying into the finish. This was her first time running this course, and her first year running trail Half Marathons. She worked so hard for this and it was great to see her get it done!|
|Mrs Notthat and Ecinreb having a huge laugh at their husband's expense. I still don't know what was said that was so funny, but I suspect it wasn't uplifting. For us anyway.|
|Mr Ecinreb and I showing off our coasters and medals, upside down in the internationally recognized DNF position.|
|Mrs Notthat stretching.|
These two sisters decided at the start of the year to try to earn the coasters for the series. Neither had run many (any?) trail Half Marathons before this year, so this was a big goal. And they nailed it. Nerak and Eibbed are so much fun on the trails, and it was so cool to see them make it through this year's races.
|A ridiculously happy Mrs Notthat and I.|
And that's about it. And now for…
The Boring Bit that Most of You can Skip
Actually, all of you can skip this. It's mostly therapy for me.
This was my fourth DNF, and my second voluntary one (not related to missing a cutoff). There was a cutoff at that aid station I stopped at, but I was way ahead of it due to using the early start. I could have sat there for an hour and still been able to continue on.
So what happened?
I wasn't prepared, training-wise. My training has been a bit spotty recently, and hill training is almost non-existent as I focus on running with my heart rate in the aerobic range while training. This definitely does not help me on the hills. So me being under-trained played a large part in this, and it had showed the previous week as well. I give this about 60% of the blame.
It was seriously warming up. I had not come as prepared as I should have for the heat, since I really had not expected it to be too bad. As I was going up that second big hill, I started getting my standard low-salt symptoms, which surprised me since I had been keeping up with my salt caps. So I started taking the salt caps a bit more often. Which meant I was getting close to running out. I was a bit surprised that they didn't have any at that third aid station - I had enough to get up to the fourth aid station, but if they didn't have any, it could be dodgy getting from there to the finish (although it's pretty much all downhill from there). I give this about 10% of the blame.
I started too fast. I had to laugh while typing that - me and "too fast" are never used in the same sentence. But it's possible that things might have gone better if I had taken it easier early on. I doubt it, but maybe. I give this about 5% of the blame.
There was an easy place to drop. During the previous week's race at Quicksilver, if I had been given the opportunity to easily drop I likely would have. In that race though, all the aid stations are fairly remote, so dropping was not much of an option. At Rocky Ridge though, there was a perfect opportunity to drop. If that opportunity had not been there, I likely would have kept on going, grudgingly, and at some minor risk. The way this course is laid out, this becomes a great test of your mental toughness - you can hear the finish line it's so close, and you can see the base of that third mean hill. Three years in a row I had passed this test (although that first year, I wanted to drop but was kept going by Coach Luap). I give this about 50% of the blame.
It was no longer fun. I do these races because they are fun. Generally, even the really tough bits are fun - I get a kick out of taking on their challenges and pulling through them. There have been a handful of times where a race has stopped being fun. Sometimes things get better. Sometimes they don't. When I started up that third hill after sitting for 20 minutes, it didn't take long before it became non-fun again. And I decided that wasn't going to change any time soon. I give this about 40% of the blame.
Those of you that are math geeks have probably already realized that I've identified 150% of the problem. Which is a problem in itself.
When you drop out of a race like this, you know you will be second-guessing yourself later about whether you should have kept going. That didn't really hit me until later the next day - up until then I was convinced I did the right thing. But now I look back and wonder why I didn't keep going. It wasn't fun, but it would have been satisfying to finish anyway. I can't dwell on this though, and have to put it in the past. I have to look at this as having challenged myself and went a bit outside my comfort zone - the safe thing to do would have been to downgrade to the 10K.
I'm going to mix in some hills with my aerobic training, and I'm planning on running the 30K at Coastal Lake Chabot next week (which has less than 2000 feet of elevation) and the 30K at ITR Mt Tam the following week (which has about the same elevation as Rocky Ridge, but more spread out). Depending on how those two races go, I will either do the 50K or 50M distance at Run d'Amore the following weekend (about 450 feet of climbing each four mile loop).
In the end, I'm not happy about stopping, but I trust myself that I made the right decision at the time. And I'm looking forward to the month of November and all its great races.
That's it - move along…
PS: You can see more of my pictures here.